The Mr Potato Head story begins in New York City during the early 1950s.
It was a modernised update of the ‘make a face’ toys that had been popular for years and consisted of a series of facial features (eyes, nose, mouth, etc.) that could be applied to a real potato.
Its inventor, George Lerner, originally intended Mr Potato Head as a prize for cereal premiums, but he soon sold the idea to the Hassenfeld Brothers of Rhode Island.
They manufactured Mr Potato Head through their toy company, Hasbro, and it first made its way to toy shelves in 1952.
The original set included a Styrofoam head for practice facial feature application, along with instructions that could be used to turn a potato or any other vegetable into a toy creation.
Mr Potato Head was marketed in a colourful box with a clear plastic window that allowed the buyer to see the toy’s bespectacled face.
It did well immediately and was also helped by advertising on television (the first time a child’s toy had been advertised on television) and in Life Magazine.
Hasbro soon began expanding the Mr Potato Head idea, starting with the introduction of Mrs Potato Head. Both Mr and Mrs Potato Head would also be sold together as a ‘funny face combination set’.
Later in the 1950s, Brother Spud and Sister Yam would also be added to the family, as well as family pets called the Spud-ettes. This new family needed homes and vehicles, and they soon arrived in the form of Kitchen and Automobile play-sets.
In 1964, Mr Potato Head traded his Styrofoam noggin for a plastic one and acquired a new set of pals known as the ‘Tooty Frooties’: Oscar The Orange, Katie The Carrot, Pete The Pepper, and Cooky The Cucumber (note that Oscar is the only real fruit of the bunch).
Later in the 1960s, yet more additions to the Potato Head world arrived in the form of the Picnic Pals.
They came in two-pal sets: Frenchy Fry and Mr Soda Pop Head, Willie Burger and Mr Ketchup Head, and Frankie Frank and Mr Mustard Head.
Dunkie Donut-Head, another 1960s addition to the line, was briefly offered as a premium at Dunkin Donuts stores during the late 1960s.
The original Potato Heads also went through some changes of their own during the mid-1960s. In 1966, Mr Potato Head acquired a new wrinkle with the addition of Jumping Mr and Mrs Potato Head.
These bigger-sized models had spring-loaded legs that would make them jump around when a key in their back was twisted around.
The Mr. model came with a kite, a fishing rod, and a jackhammer while the Mrs Model included a feather duster, a dinner bell, and a popcorn popper.
There were also box sets at the end of the 1960s that provided new landscapes for Mr and Mrs Potato Head to frolic in. They took their names from the exotic destinations they provided: On The Railroad, On The Farm, and even On The Moon.
As the 1970s began, Mr Potato Head teamed up with other famous characters like Donald Duck and Bozo the Clown through tie-in box sets.
He also moved into the animal kingdom through a series of toys that grafted the Potato Head on an animal’s body. The results were creations like Potato Fish and Potato Bird.
In 1974, the main Mr Potato Head toys went through another major change when their size was increased and their number of accessories was reduced. Also, the various lines of Potato Head friends were discontinued around this time. In their place arrived a Mr Potato Head Game that was sold exclusively at Sears stores.
Mr Potato Head gained another cool accessory in the early 1980s when a trapdoor was added to his backside so the spud’s owners could store his many facial accessories inside his plastic body. He also moved into Saturday morning television in the form of Potato Head Kids, a segment of My Little Pony ‘n Friends.
Of course, there were new toys and board games to represent these youthful additions to the Potato Head family. Mr Potato Head also took on a new social significance in 1986 when he surrendered his pipe accessory to Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and became the “spokespud” for the American Cancer Society’s “Great American Smokeout”. This is a role that Mr Potato Head would continue in for many years.
Mr Potato Head gained a new level of hipness in the mid-1990s through his appearance in Disney’s Toy Story films, leading to new Potato Head toys. A plush version of Mr Potato Head, complete with soft accessories, was also introduced around this time.
He also became the spokesman for Burger King’s “Try The Fry” advertising campaign when they introduced their new French fries in 1997, and he maintained his image as a socially conscious spud by lending his image to the League of Women Voters’ “Get The Vote Out” campaign.
Most recently, Mr Potato Head has returned to television with The Mr Potato Head Show.